As the Oklahoma City Thunder set their sights on a Northwest Division title and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, the Minnesota Timberwolves face the possibility of being without their top player for the remainder of another disappointing season.
After its six-game winning streak was snapped with a 95-93 home loss to lowly Toronto on Sunday, Oklahoma City (46-24) bounced back with a 106-94 victory over Utah on Wednesday.
The Thunder are 10-2 in March and have a four-game lead over Denver in the division with 12 games remaining. A franchise that has not claimed a division title since Seattle won the Northwest in 2004-05, Oklahoma City is fourth in the Western Conference.
“I think that we’ve just got to continue on this path. I think we’re on a good roll right now,” said All-Star Kevin Durant(notes), who had 29 points against the Jazz. “Even though we lost against Toronto, I think we’re still feeling good.”
Oklahoma City should feel good about the way its played defensively of late, giving up 87.7 points per contest while winning six of the last seven.
“(We’ve) got everything on the defensive end down,” Durant said. “I know some of the small things on the offensive side. “It’s just a matter of knowing where (the newer players on the team) want the ball, them knowing where we want the ball and small things like that.”
Durant and the Thunder have a chance to fine tune their offense with Minnesota (17-55) in town.
The Thunder have averaged 113.3 points in the last six games against the Timberwolves, who have lost three in a row at Oklahoma City.
Durant has averaged 32.9 points on 50.9 percent shooting and 9.9 rebounds during the Thunder’s eight-game winning streak over Minnesota. He had a season-high 47 points and 18 rebounds in a 118-117 overtime victory at Minnesota on Jan. 26.
Love had 31 and 21 in that contest, but won’t be on the floor for the Timberwolves.
The All-Star forward missed Thursday’s 104-96 loss at Dallas after straining his left groin against Sacramento on Sunday. Coach Kurt Rambis said there’s a chance Love - averaging 20.3 points and a league-high 15.4 rebounds - could miss the Timberwolves’ remaining 10 games to conclude a seventh consecutive season without a playoff appearance.
“There is an outside chance, I don’t know how great that chance is,” Rambis said. “Obviously, with hamstring or groin injuries, you want to be cautious with them because they can linger for a long period of time, and we don’t want that to happen with Kevin.”
Minnesota is 5-31 away from home.